Simon Fraser’s Decision

One Saturday morning last fall a student went to a nearby school to take the SAT test because he was interested in attending an American University. “What surprised me most,” he said, “was that everyone there asked me, ‘What sport do you play?’ – as if I were heading to the USA on a sports scholarship. I guess most of the students’ taking the test were actually recruits.”

That student’s observations came back to me as I read about Simon Fraser University’s decision to join the NCAA. This means, of course, the SFU will be able to offer full scholarships, improve their level of athletic play, and compete on a regular basis in an American interscholastic league. Sounds good doesn’t it?

Such a move would also keep some of Canada’s finest student athletes in Canada  while also saving the school money (SFU’s travel cost will go down dramatically because they’ll no longer travel throughout Canada and instead will play only schools in the American Northwest.)  Despite all of the above, I think Simon Fraser should rethink this decision.

One of the charms of Canadian university sports is that they are amateur in the best sense of the word. Students play volleyball or hockey or tennis because they love the game. Once universities start offering money to students because of their athletic ability, there will be no going back.  There will be a Canadian John Calipari before you know it, and we may someday pine for a more innocent if less lucrative sporting world.


One thought on “Simon Fraser’s Decision

  1. Though we may pine for the Victorian charms of amateurism when athletes played exclusively for the love of sport those days are long gone and not likely to return in our lifetimes. Less than 100 years ago gentlemen athletes that practiced were considered to be cheating. Later, practicing was acceptable, but having a coach was taboo as illustrated in the movie Chariots of Fire about the 1924 Olympics. In the 1970s the Olympic movement, the highest profile proponent of the amateur ethic, started accepting and encouraging corporate sponsorships. Shortly thereafter they caved completely and started allowing professional athletes to compete. This year the sports industry is estimated by some to be worth $410 billion in America alone. Is there a trend here? Experience in the world of sport today offers much more than a playing field for an athlete. At stake are also possible careers in sport administration, business, coaching, marketing, media, communications, medicine, management, ownership, etc. The genteel amateur days where one was instructed to say little when losing and even less in victory disappeared from the broader Canadian university sports scene decades ago. Given the amount of time, money and effort that parents and school staff devote to athletics one could argue that the amateur ethic is gone even from high schools and prep schools let alone universities.

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